Thanksgiving break is officially over, but the stove is just heating up. Our first day back from the first vacation of the holiday season is also the non-tender deadline, so teams have been making moves. Before 8PM tonight, teams will decide whether or not to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, or let them become free agents. The tendered contract is more of a starting offer that keeps the team in control of the player while they then negotiate the actual salary for the upcoming season. There are over 200 arbitration-eligible players across MLB, so a lot is happening!
If you’re having trouble keeping track of everything that’s happened today, here’s a recap:
The Red Sox traded Sandy Leon to the Cleveland Indians for minor league pitcher Adenys Bautista.
Last Spring Training, the Sox’ biggest conundrum was that they’d been carrying three catchers on the roster. After a bit of a round-robin shuffle, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon became the 2019 Red Sox catchers. Defensively, Sandy was a crucial part of the team; Sox pitchers posted a 3.74 ERA when he was behind the plate. But with Christian Vazquez’s insane offensive production in ’19 and the fact that Sandy Leon was expected to make at least $2.5 million in 2020, it makes sense that new GM (Chief Baseball Officer is just too wordy) Chaim Bloom is trimming the fat and sending Sandy away. Considering the player return is the righty Bautista, who posted a 7+ ERA over 14 games in the Indians minor league system in 2019, this trade is pretty much a price-slashing move.
And speaking of minor league arms, the Philadelphia Phillies claimed Red Sox RHP Trevor Kelley off waivers today.
The Cincinnati Reds signed Mike Moustakas to a 4-year, $64M deal.
Third time’s the charm! In his 3rd free-agency, Moose is finally getting the big payday he deserves. Last season, he hit 35 HR for Milwaukee with career-highs .845 OPS and 53 walks in 143 games. He finished the season with a 2.8 WAR,. his best since his career-high 3.8 in 2015. Though he’s a third baseman by trade, he’s quite versatile in the infield; he played 47 games at second base in 2019 (105 at third), and will now be playing second base for the Reds.
Between Moustakas, the reinvented Sonny Gray, Joey Votto, and rookie stud Aristides Aquino, to name a few, the 2020 Reds should be hard to beat, and a lot of fun to watch!
The San Diego Padres received infielder Jurickson Profar from the Oakland A’s in exchange for catcher Austin Allen and a player to be named later.
I’m loathe to admit it, but the Padres infield is looking pretty stacked, with Hosmer at first, Profar at second, Tatis Jr. at short, and Machado at third. Profar will replace Luis Urías, who was traded to Milwaukee last week with LHP Eric Lauer in exchange for outfielder Trent Grisham and RHP Zach Davies.
Profar experienced a bit of a downturn in 2019, slashing .218/.301/.410 for Oakland. He’d been at .254/.335/.458 with the Rangers in 2018.
But in addition to second base, 26-year-old Profar has played every infield position and spent some time in the outfield over the last few seasons, making him an attractively versatile get for San Diego, especially if he can re-energize himself at the plate.
The Chicago White Sox avoided arbitration with James McCann.
Jeff Passan reported that McCann will receive a $5.4 million deal for the 2020 season. With the signing of Yasmani Grandal last week, McCann’s future with the club was uncertain, but it appears they’ll be sharing catching duties, with McCann also DH-ing sometimes. In his last five seasons, McCann posted a combined .240/.288/.366, but hit an improved .273/.328/.460 last year.
The Marlins made money moves!
Miami was definitely one of the biggest winners today, picking up Jonathan Villar from the Baltimore Orioles, and Jesús Aguilar, who was designated for assignment by the Rays last week. In exchange, the Orioles will get LHP Easton Lucas.
Villar was the rare bright spot on the Orioles this year, slashing .273/.339/.453 and appearing in all 162 of their games. This is his final year of arbitration, and he’s projected to make at least $10 million.
First-baseman Aguilar, meanwhile, split his 2019 season between Milwaukee and Tampa, playing 131 total games in which he slashed .236/.325/.389 with 12 HR and 50 RBI, a bit of a drop-off from 2018, when he hit .274/.352/.539 with 35 HR and 108 RBI in 149 games as part of Milwaukee’s stellar team.
Kevin Pillar was… too good to tender?
Perhaps the most shocking move today was the Giants not tendering Kevin Pillar, who was undoubtedly their best player in 2019 and quickly endeared himself to SF fans in his first and only season with the club. The longtime Blue Jay led his new team in RBI and stolen bases, and was tied with Mike Yastrzemski for the HR lead at 21 apiece, but given the younger outfielders coming up in their system, Yaz included, the Giants opted not to stick with him. Pillar would’ve likely earned $10M in arbitration, but instead enters his first free agency.
According to MLB Insider Jeff Passan, there were 40 arbitration-eligible players who were non-tendered today. That’s a big increase from the 27 last year and 19 the year before. It’s fitting for MLB; teams are getting richer and stingier, choosing money over loyalty to their players.
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Photo: CBS Sports